National Writing Project Launch, 11th October

The National Writing Project UK launch on the 11th of October saw the inaugural meeting of the first NWP group in Scotland.  Emily Gillies, NQT English at Springburn Academy, reports on the event. Inquiries about NWP Glasgow can be directed to Lisa Hamilton at gw17hamiltonlisa@glow.ea.glasgow.sch.uk . Lisa has written about NWP on here own blog, here .

On Wednesday, October 11th I had the pleasure of attending a National Writing Project UK event at Springburn Academy. The event was a launch for not only the first National Writing Project group in Glasgow but indeed the first in Scotland, and was an exciting opportunity to learn a little bit more about what the National Writing Project does, as well as learning about some practical approaches to teaching creative writing in the classroom. The event was well-attended by a mix of both primary and secondary teachers, and offered opportunities to share good practice and to discuss and reflect upon what we had learned.

Simon Wrigley, one of the co-founders of the National Writing Project UK, opened the workshop by explaining the philosophy behind the project and stressing the importance of creative writing, for both pupils and teachers. We were then asked to think about our own experiences and memories of writing, and encouraged to share these with the other members at our group, which opened up interesting conversations about the emotions associated with writing. We reflected on how these experiences – positive or negative – have influenced our adult relationships with writing, thus highlighting the importance of allowing children to have opportunities to write creatively in an encouraging, positive environment.

We then engaged in a free writing activity, in which we wrote about one of our memories or experiences for five minutes, without stopping to plan, review or edit our writing. These five minutes flew by and afterwards, we were once again encouraged to discuss and reflect upon the activity, with many in my own group describing the experience as “freeing” and “cathartic”. I very much enjoyed this writing technique as it forced me to write without worrying too much about whether it was “good enough”, which I believe is one reason I myself am hesitant to even begin writing in the first place. Many of us found that, once we had started writing, the ideas flowed very easily and the most difficult thing about it was writing quickly enough to get everything down on the page within the allotted time! We were not forced to share our work but simply to read back on it and reflect on the experience of writing itself.

Almost the instant we started reflecting on the free writing activity, I could see how it would be a useful activity to use in class. I have a National 5 class who are very reluctant to begin writing their Personal Writing pieces for their Folio, for numerous reasons, including not knowing where to start when it comes to writing about a personal experience. However, I feel like an activity such as this, where pupils and teachers are all engaged in the writing process together, where there is no pressure on creating the “perfect” piece of work, and where pupils are not forced to share their writing unless they absolutely feel comfortable doing so, is the ideal jumping off point. I will certainly be using this with my National 5 class and have plans to use it as a starter activity in BGE classes as well.

 

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ASLS SChools’ Conference, 2017

Leanne Welsh, SATE’s new local authority representative in Falkirk, reflects on the annual ASLS conference.  You can read Leanne’s excellent blog here.

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Yesterday, I attended The Association for Scottish Literary studies annual Schools Conference in Glasgow.   This conference is a vital resource for teachers wishing to explore Scottish literature and language in the classroom.  I left the event with many new ideas that I plan to use with my classes in order to enhance their understanding of Scotland’s heritage.

Eleanor Ormerod - landscape panelThe day started with Scottish war poetry presented by David Goldie and Rory Watson talking about a new collection edited for the ASLS, From the Line: Scottish War Poetry 1914-1945.   A poem that stayed with me was Mary Symon’s The Soldiers’ Cairn. This poem would be a great way to explore the impact of war with a class as it represents a different perspective than that of a solider.  The Soldiers’ Cairn is written in the dialect of North East Scotland and I believe this use of dialect helps emphasise the nature of home life and the pride people have for their country.  This can be explored in the first line of the poem ‘Gie me a hill wi’ the heather on’t’ which immediately transports me to the beautiful Scottish hills and the scenery that we have become so familiar with.  However, we soon learn that those bereaved by the war are ‘biggin’ the soldiers’ cairn’ in memory of the loved ones they have lost due to the horrors of war.  The speaker states that the driving force for building this cairn is the heartbreak that the families now feel, and perhaps this cairn will provide a little comfort and bring back the memories of happier times before the soldiers’ deaths.

We also learn that many of the soldiers will be ‘still’ in lands that their relatives will never see; which again highlights the raw emotion in this poem and creates a contrast between the safety of home and the dangers of unknown countries.  The families can only imagine what has happened to their loved ones and this ‘lanely cairn on a hameland hill’ helps them represent the overwhelming love they felt and, to some extent, brings their child back to the familiar scenery of Scotland.

In the final stanza loss is further presented through, ‘But oh, my Bairn, my Bairn’ showing a parent’s worst nightmare: outliving their child.  I believe this also represents the idea that a parent’s need to protect their offspring never diminishes, even when they watch them leave home and live their own life.  Therefore the death of a child, at any age, can never be forgotten.

My experience of war poetry is minimal; however poems like The Soldiers’ Cairn have helped highlight to me that war impacts the families, as well as the soldiers, as they suffer from the moment their child leaves to fight in unknown territories.  One of the speakers mentioned that the 4th stanza may lose the reader as the language becomes more sophisticated; however, I believe this is suitable as it stresses the unpredictable thought-process of an inconsolable parent.  The Soldiers’ Cairn can be accessed here:

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Another key moment for me was looking at the three short stories of James Hogg in The Devil I am Sure.   These stories all have an element of the supernatural and Hogg manages to create a contrast in social classes by exploring characters varying from the smooth educated English to the rough pheasant Scots.  These short stories could definitely be explored with classes and could make a refreshing change for senior pupils writing their critical essay.  Hogg creates stories with the intention of stumping his reader and making them think.  He also explores the quirks of the human mind and the impact differing personalities can have on relationships.   These would be thought-provoking stories to read with a class and I will be reading them all soon to discover their menacing nature.

I enjoyed many other elements of the conference, such as learning about the fiction of Nan Shepherd and the connections between home and the wider world.  Ewan McVicar was also entertaining and discussed ways to use Scottish folksong in the classroom. It was interesting to hear about how to keep folksong tradition alive by asking pupils to add a modern twist in order to make the songs relevant to modern day life. This conference is worthwhile for anyone with an interest in how to explore Scottish literature in the classroom and I will definitely attend it again.